I was once in a job- before teaching- where my boss felt I was not doing a good job. He had all sorts of accusations against my performance- that I was not being relational enough with people, that I was not meeting the particular goals set before me, etc. I felt very attacked, as I felt the exact opposite about these accusations. The boss called a meeting with some of the volunteers we worked with, and laid out his concerns. Almost immediately, the volunteers began to speak up on my behalf. They felt as I did- that things we going well. They provided instances that directly proved their opinions, and we left the meeting with the boss having realized he had misread the situation.
And I never said a word.
I had an adversary, and I had advocates in this situation. Looking back on that event, I see an application to today, to how I teach and how I interact with my students. I have a choice- to be an adversary, or to be a advocate.
Merriam Webster's definition of an adversary is above. As you can see, the key actions of an adversary are opposing and resisting. But the word that stands out to me most, is 'enemy.' If I have an adversary, I have an enemy. If my students see me as an adversary- I am THEIR enemy.
Now, Merriam Webster has the above to say about Advocates.
Now, those are important words we can get behind. And the thing is, they are all verbs with motion. See, I can support you by saying I agree with or accept you. To advocate is to actively try to improve your situation.
Taking an adversarial role often means you are taking the actions of the student personally- or at least it looks that way. It also means that your interest is more in convicting- or proving- that student wrong. To an adversary, the rule is more important than the rule breaker.
An advocate will always seek to understand the person behind the action. Even in discipline, it is about how to help the student grow and learn through the experience- it is not about being right for the advocate.
Also- note the definitions themselves. The advocate has a variety of definitions, the adversary just one. Advocates are open-minded- adversaries see only one way: theirs.
Think about your own interactions, especially in areas of discipline. Are you more Adversary, or more Advocate?
In the next blog, I want to go more into what it means to be an advocate for your kids.
This past weekend I went to a concert.
My favorite band in the world is Switchfoot, and this is also my family's collective favorite band. We took our daughters as their first concert- and it did not disappoint. Lead singer of Switchfoot- Jon Foreman walked out into the crowd while singing, right to our family. And later, he crowd surfed over us.
But that is not the only thing that stuck out to me. Opening act Tyson Motsenbocker, while talking about one of his songs, said this:
"We need to criticize what we love."
At first glance, this seems cynical or harsh. But what he really was saying is that if we really love something, we do not need to just accept it as it is. We need to question it, not just act on blind faith that it works the way we think it does.
A marriage that never questions its intentions will be shallow. An engineer that never questions their structures will make an inferior product. A doctor that never questions their methods will eventually make a mistake.
And educators that never question- or criticize- their instruction or campus culture will never grow.
To never question or criticize is- to me- to be complacent. To accept that it is "good enough" or "is what it is."
It is apathy, and apathy is the enemy of learning.
So, when I ask questions, when I challenge the ideas of my fellow educators- it is not out of judgment or harshness or superiority that I question you. No, I question because I care.
Because I believe that together we can be better.
And because I need you to question me, too.